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Voters should focus on infrastructure

Opinion Column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

And the walls came tumbling down, and the walls came rumbling crumbling.

— John Mellencamp

As the 2013 election cycle — the so-called mid-term election — kicks into full swing, local, state and national candidates have begun to formulate and release to the public plans of attack that they hope will propel them into office.

Politics being a very visual sport, the issues being discussed already by candidates are pretty much the same from the nation’s capital to Albany’s downtown Government Center: crime, economic development, jobs and the environment.

One topic that’s not being discussed, though, is one that should be at the top of every candidates’ priority list, a topic that impacts everyone from urban and metropolitan dwellers to those with more rural addresses. It’s a topic more important even than job creation, law enforcement and ethics, but it doesn’t have the cachet — the sexiness — that those issues carry.

Infrastructure.

From larger cities like Atlanta, Macon, Columbus and Albany to bedroom communities like Leesburg, Sylvester, Dawson and Camilla, aging infrastructure poses a greater threat even than the the gangs that roam the streets, the unemployment numbers that represent a lack of jobs and out-of-whack weather patterns that have us wondering what Mother Nature’s going to throw at us next.

Our country’s roads are wearing away at an alarming rate, becoming increasingly hazardous, and a recent national report revealed that a startling number of bridges in the U.S. are in danger of at least a partial collapse. Landfills are full to overflowing; government agencies are stockpiling dangerous nuclear waste because there’s no safe place to get rid of it; antiquated sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants are proving insufficient, and aging structures not built to adequate standards are in danger of crumbling.

The city of Albany and Dougherty County are fortunate to have men as dedicated and knowledgeable as Phil Roberson and Larry Cook, respectively, heading their Public Works departments, and those two department managers have taken pains to hire qualified staff to carry out the behind-the-scenes work necessary to maintain the city and county’s infrastructure. But even men this talented are not miracle-workers.

Albany leaders, for example, have known for years that the city’s long-past-expiration-date sewer system is inadequate, and the price tag for fixing it — not applying the several Band-Aids that Public Works has been forced to work with over the years but actually fixing the mess — is estimated to be somewhere approaching $100 million. That number is staggering, but residents can’t help but wonder what might have been accomplished if a sufficient portion of the funds allocated for borderline frivolous projects — projects championed as little more than political capital for cronies and/or supporters — during the SPLOST era had been set aside for necessary repairs.

City Manager James Taylor has warned commissioners every opportunity he’s had that any future special sales tax funding must go toward infrastructure upgrades, but that’s a hard sell at times for a group whose primary concern is sometimes more about re-election than need. Voters, who’ve footed the bill over the years and have seen much of their extra pennies go toward projects that have had precious little benefit, have grown increasingly tired of doing so. Look no further back than the regional Transportation-SPLOST failure for proof.

So, voters, take note: As this election season really starts rolling and candidates at all levels start trolling for votes, ask them what they plan to do about the infrastructure where you live. If they’re at a loss, you might be best served by looking elsewhere for someone to support.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.